“How was your week?” I asked my therapy client.
She looked at me with utter confusion. “I don’t even know. I’m just so overwhelmed. I’ve been feeling so sad and exhausted, but I don’t even know why.”
As we unpacked her past week, she told me about her dinner with her extended family, her chaotic relationship, some assignments due for her class, a conflict at her job, some things due for her volunteer position, her racquetball club, and more.
The more she told me, the clearer it became why she couldn’t ascertain what caused her shift in energy and emotions.
She had so much on her plate that she couldn’t feel the energetic impact of each additional thing she added.
I get it. I used to be the same way. For the majority of my life, I thought that to have a meaningful, enjoyable life I needed to “be productive” and fill my schedule with positive things for myself and others.
At one point, I worked full time as a high school art teacher, coached the volleyball team, completed my counseling internship, and attended graduate school. My default state was one of depletion, but I didn’t even realize it because it felt so natural. When another paper was due or there was an extra volleyball game, I didn’t even notice the impact on me. It was common to just go go go.
Even when I eventually graduated and started my own private practice, I filled my schedule with clients and other ways of giving back to the community.
The difference this time was that I had no one else to blame. I was entirely responsible for every aspect of my life. If I was tired, it was on me. Once I made this realization, I began to make changes. I slowly decreased my caseload. After that, I slowly removed other obligations off my plate.
The difference between my daily life now and three years ago is night and day. Now, when I have an unexpected obligation pop up (like needing to do all of the paperwork to renew my license), I notice the energetic impact on my life.
I never would have noticed before.
With clients, I like to create a visual with them to help them understand the impact of having a full plate. I make a stack of rocks and say that it represents all of the things in their life. I then add another rock to it. I ask if they can notice the additional rock in the pile, and they say barely.
I then reduce the rock stack to three rocks. I say this represents someone who only has three primary obligations in their life. I then add an additional rock and ask if it makes a difference, and they notice it is a significant one.
This is how clients begin to see the impact of having a lot on their plate.
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